The Lingo Limbo Part 3

For years, I have been wanting someone – The Ghana Association perhaps, or DadaK’s church – to start Twi language classes for children. But, perhaps for the reasons I’ve speculated about in Lingo Limbo Part 1, no one has. And at some point last year I finally realised that if you really want something to happen, you have to do it yourself. Not that I wanted to start a language school – I’ve got quite enough on my plate thank you – but I decided to find a tutor.

My first step was to advertise on AfricanOZ, the website for all things African in Australia. I’d seen ads there for tutors in other languages, so I thought I’d try my luck – but got no reponse. I hope others were luckier than I.

A few weeks later at work I was talking with a worker from the Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis C website, and remembered that they had Akan transalations on their site. I asked him if their Akan worker would be able to help. (Twi is an Akan language & sometimes called Akan).  He got back to me a few days later with a recommendation that I try the Ghana Association. Der. Why didn’t I call them in the frst place? Well, I’d looked on their website & hadn’t found anything, I guess that’s why. But this time I called the President – whom I’d actually met (again, der!) – and he put me in contact with Tikyani (means teacher – you pronounce it Ticha-nee. More or less. For some obscure reason which one day I may discover, “ky” in Twi is pronounced “ch”).

Tikyani, it turned out, had done the Akan translations for the Multicultural website, although he wasn’t the Akan worker there. (I felt I was going in circles at this point – you can see why I called these posts the Lingo Limbo?) I got the impression he was a bit of a Twi language resource, for his community, but he wasn’t actually a qualified teacher and hadn’t ever tutored anyone before. I was prepared to give him a try – at least he’d offered!

Actually the lack of qualifications hasn’t been too much of a problem for me, but I think it would be helpful to ActionMan to have more structure. Our lessons are fairly informal & involve a lot of chat about the language. He gets a bit bored. I really enjoy them, but then I have a bit more of a grasp of the language than ActionMan, and I’m also not embarrassed to make a fool of myself trying to pronounce things. But when you’re 13, almost everything is embarrassing.

What I am embarrassed about is the fact that I first spoke to Tikyani last October and since then we have only managed to have three lessons! There have been good reasons for this – illness & injury (AM’s recently become very accident prone), holidays, work commitments, the burden of travelling half way across Sydney, a death amongst our friends which threw us into a time warp for several weeks, and all the kerfuffle surrounding DadaK & Co’s departure for Ghana last month.

However perhaps the most significant obstacle was ActionMan’s point blank refusal to continue with it, after suffering more than usually acute embarrassment in our third lesson. It went like this: in lesson 1, we did the alphabet & unique Twi sounds. In lesson 2 we looked at personal pronouns, and Tikyani set us the homework of tryng to construct some sentences. When we came to discuss these in lesson 3, one of AM’s sentences was “I’m going to eat you” (as in “I, the monster, am going to eat you”).

The problem is, as we soon discovered, that in Twi you cannot put the words “eat you” togther in that order unless you are asking someone to have sex with you. Need I say more? Actually Tikyani handled it well, but ActionMan was squirming.

It was after this that ActionMan announced he didn’t want to have lessons anymore, and I plunged into a “bad parent” trough of depression. Why didn’t I start when he was smaller? Am I wrong to force him? He’ll regret it when he’s grown up! Will Tikyani teach me if AM’s not doing it? Oh I’ve failed, failed, failed!

Of course troughs of depression are seldom useful in taking your life forward, unless you take the opportunity to have a good cry, after which you feel much better. So that’s what I did, and managed to climb out of the trough and gain a better perspective.

I do think it’s important for him to learn the language – it could make a big, positive difference to his life. He said he just wanted to wait and learn while in Ghana, but I think he needs to have a bit of a head start & some of the basics before we get there.

So I decided to stick to my guns, but to try and make the lessons work better for him – perhaps he only sits in for a short, structured session & doesn’t have to hang around for the chat. I also decided that I would resort to a parenting strategy of which I normally don’t approve: Bribery. I’m doubling his pocket money on condition he does classes and worksheets (that I’ve devised). It worked – or has worked so far. He’s wanting to pay for a new i-pod, so he’s been doing the worksheets, and our first class, after a long hiatus, is tomorrow afternoon. I’ll keep you posted.

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